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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee - 08/02/2016 - Estimates - PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO - Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General

[16:33]

CHAIR: We will now move on to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Portfolio and deal with the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General. I welcome Mr Mark Fraser, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, and Mr Stephen Murtagh, the deputy official secretary, to the table. Mr Fraser, do you wish to make an opening statement? But before you do, if you do, I remind you that the committee is moving onto a different area at 5 pm. It does not mean you can necessarily be excused, so I ask you to answer the questions succinctly and provide as much information as possible so that you can get out of here as soon as possible. Mr Fraser, would you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Fraser : Thank you very much, Senator—a brief statement. The Governor-General will shortly celebrate his second anniversary in the role, and Their Excellencies have now spent approximately one-third of their time in rural, regional and remote Australia, including 92 different locations on 193 separate trips. They have also participated in around 1,330 official engagements, welcoming over 70,000 guests to both official properties.

With regard to the Senate order for the production of documents on unanswered questions on notice, 11 questions were taken at the last hearing, eight written and three on notice during the hearing. All have been answered by the due date. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Fraser.

Senator WONG: Thank you for providing the copy of the letter from Mr Truss to the Governor-General on 15 September as I requested. Did the Governor-General seek or receive any further advice regarding the conditions of the coalition agreement for the formation of government from Mr Turnbull as and when they were presented?

Mr Fraser : Not that I am aware of.

Senator WONG: Obviously the formation of government and the guarantee of supply are pretty important issues. If the support were conditional, would you not expect the Governor-General to be advised of that by the Prime Minister?

Mr Fraser : Mr Turnbull, as he was at that time when he called on the Governor-General, obviously had a private discussion with the Governor-General, and I am not privy to the contents of that discussion.

Senator WONG: Fair enough. Subsequent to that private discussion, are you aware of whether or not any details of the coalition agreement have been provided to Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : Not to the Governor-General, no.

Senator WONG: You are not aware or they have not been provided?

Mr Fraser : There has been no communication that I have seen and it would normally come through me or I would be aware of it.

Senator WONG: I am just conscious that the Deputy Prime Minister has been very forthcoming about this agreement, stating it will underpin the relationship between the Liberal and National parties. It talks about the maintenance of existing policies in relation to: climate change, carbon taxes, emissions reductions, targets; proper consideration by cabinet of amendments to the ACCC act to prevent abuse of market power; agree to maintain the existing policy to refer same-sex marriage to a plebiscite; additional support for stay-at-home parents; transfer of responsibility for the water policy outcomes of the Department of Environment Murray-Darling Basin Authority to the agricultural portfolio—this is in the press conference that the Deputy Prime Minister did on 15 September. These matters—I only referenced some of them—that Mr Truss outlined in that press conference go to details of public administration, significant portfolio changes, significant government commitments around policy. At any point, has the Governor-General sought details of these changes?

Mr Fraser : They are all entirely parliamentary party matters.

Senator WONG: No, that is not right. They are clearly not. They are portfolio responsibilities which are machinery of government matters. They are not parliamentary matters; they are matters of the executive government.

Mr Fraser : You are right. That is correct, and they are not matters within which the Governor-General would not normally involve himself. In relation to this matter, Mr Truss provided a letter to the Governor-General that indicated that Mr Turnbull had the support of the National Party going forward.

Senator WONG: It is quite clear that support he does have is based on a range of conditions, some of which have been made public and some of which have not—I am not expecting you to respond to that.

I also want to understand this: there was a statement also by Mr Truss in relation to a change of prime ministership prior to the change of prime ministership:

The coalition agreement is between Tony Abbott and me... any change in the leadership will require a new Coalition agreement and message of support to the Governor-General from me.

Now is that what in fact occurred?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: That once there was a change of Prime Minister, a new coalition agreement—we do not know how new it was in terms of the content because they do not release any of this despite the fact it deals with public administration and significant policy matters; but, leaving that aside, the government refuses to release that—is provided and a new letter is provided from Mr Truss to the Governor-General. Is that correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: So if there was a change in the leadership of the National Party, would the Governor-General be seeking a new letter of support from Mr Joyce for Mr Turnbull?

Mr Fraser : That is a hypothetical situation, and we would address that at the time. It is not something that I have turned my mind to.

Senator WONG: I am not asking you to comment on whether or not Mr Joyce should become the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. I am not asking you to comment on that hypothetical; I am asking a sort of machinery question. The proposition I put to you was: if there is a change of Prime Minister, you need a new agreement and a new letter to the GG,. Is that correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Is that procedure required for a change in the Deputy Prime Minister?

Mr Fraser : It would be a matter we would consider at the time. I do not know what the answer to your question is. It would be up to the Governor-General whether he would like that assurance.

Senator WONG: So it would be a matter for the Governor-General to determine whether or not a change in the deputy prime ministership would require a similar letter of support, as one was required when there was a change of the prime ministership?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Can I go to the changes to the ministry on 21 September 2015?

Mr Fraser : Certainly.

Senator WONG: I assume you are aware—and if you are not, I will ask that you be provided with it—of a question on notice answered by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about the ministerial reshuffle. My college Senator Ludwig asked this question and it is question on notice No. 34. Have you seen that?

Mr Fraser : I have not seen that.

Senator WONG: It would be useful if you could be provided with it. I can read it back to you and if you want to see it—Senator Ludwig asked:

Did all the ministers that were dumped by Mr Turnbull submit letters of resignation?

It goes to letters of resignation to the Governor-General. There is an exchange and this is the answer:

On 21 September 2015, on the Prime Minister's advice, the Governor-General revoked the appointments of Ministers who were members of the Abbott Ministry but who did not continue as members of the Turnbull Ministry. Letters of resignation are not necessary in these circumstances.

Does that accord with you recollection of what occurred?

Mr Fraser : I do recall there being an executive council meeting on 21 September. At that meeting, the new administrative arrangements order was entered into and the Governor-General did revoke the appointments. On the advice of the Prime Minister, he revoked the ministerial appointments of the Abbott ministry.

Senator WONG: They did not resign?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: My recollection is that in previous changes the ministers would resign. Is that not your recollection?

Mr Fraser : No, that is not my recollection.

Senator WONG: Really?

Mr Fraser : Yes, I have not seen such letters during previous governments of ministers resigning en masse. Normally, this is dealt with under the cover of a letter from the Prime Minister to the Governor-General seeking the Governor-General to exercise instruments of revocation of those ministerial appointments and to then issue new instruments, as the case may be.

Senator WONG: I am not sure that is right. Is that because you have not been involved in previous ministerial reshuffles, so you therefore would not be engaged with it, or is it because you think that a ministerial reshuffle does not involve any resignations?

Mr Fraser : It is the former. I have not been directly involved in these processes.

Senator WONG: I would invite you to take the opportunity to appraise yourself because my recollection is resignation letters were provided in previous changes to ministry. In fact, there was—

CHAIR: They were not, sorry?

Senator WONG: They were.

Senator McKENZIE: En masse—

Senator WONG: En masse, yes. If a minister ceases to become a minister—

CHAIR: Is dumped—

Senator WONG: I am trying to use non-pejorative words. People are given an opportunity to resign and it is extremely unusual for a revocation in the way that you describe, from my recollection—I am not the Governor-General. I would invite you to perhaps inform yourself about past procedure.

Mr Fraser : I would be very happy to take that on notice. The policy matters that you are addressing here really sit within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, who handle all the matters and all the paperwork surrounding ministerial appointments.

CHAIR: On this if I may, Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: It is on this. Can I just put this point?

CHAIR: Go on.

Senator WONG: I did not want to mention any individuals but there was quite a bit of reporting of a particular minister in the former government whose commission was revoked—that is, not a resignation—and that was described as a sacking and described as a very unusual situation. What you are describing is effectively a sacking of Senator Abetz and other ministers.

Mr Fraser : All I can repeat is my earlier answer that I am not aware, in the past or on this occasion, of the entire ministry resigning en masse—

Senator WONG: No, it is not the entire ministry. Why do you keep saying 'entire ministry retiring en masse'? There was a reshuffle which required some people to leave and some people were promoted. It is not the reallocation of a portfolio; it is people who are no longer part of the executive who were. So if we have been operating under a misapprehension, that is what I am talking about. I am not talking about someone getting another bit to a portfolio; I am talking about somebody who was in the executive who no longer is.

I invite you to check with your office and your colleagues and tell me whether or not it is the usual practice in such circumstances for ministers to resign.

Mr Fraser : I would be happy to take that on notice.

CHAIR: Just on that, is the Governor-General entitled to rely on the recommendations of the Prime Minister—

Senator WONG: He is entitled to.

CHAIR: about who should be fulfilling his portfolio?

Mr Fraser : That is, of course, true and there are various ways in which ministers approach this issue. Some ministers on other occasions do resign in person to the Governor-General by letter or in person, but I am not aware of that happening on this occasion.

Senator WONG: They resign to the Prime Minister—as the basis of the advice. Let's be clear: I am not suggesting that Senator Abetz should have written to the Governor-General resigning. I am suggesting that the basis of the advice that the new Prime Minister gives to the Governor-General about the revocation of various people's commissions generally is predicated upon a resignation letter being received by the Prime Minister.

Mr Fraser : And sometimes by the Governor-General. Ministers write directly to the Governor-General, after all they are his ministers. He appoints the ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Right. And no resignation letters were received in relation to—

Mr Fraser : I am very happy to look at that, but not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Are you aware of the Governor-General being advised, or was your office advised, of resignation letters being received by the Prime Minister?

Mr Fraser : I am not aware of that.

Senator WONG: Clearly they were not as a result of this question on notice answer. The difficulty is that a revocation on the advice of the Prime Minister is effectively a sacking if nobody gets the opportunity to resign.

CHAIR: And?

Senator WONG: I am sticking up for Senator Abetz.

CHAIR: It is not about individuals. You cannot compel an individual to write a resignation letter.

Senator WONG: True, if people refuse to resign.

CHAIR: I know people who have refused to resign from minor shadow frontbench portfolio positions on more than one occasion!

Senator Moore interjecting

Senator WONG: Let's go back, Mr Fraser. You may want to take this on notice because your answer was different to my recollection or my understanding of the procedure, and I might be wrong. I put to you that it is usual for ministers who depart the ministry as a result of a reshuffle to submit letters of resignation, either to the Prime Minister or, you have indicated today, on occasion to the Governor-General. I am putting that to you. You need to either say 'yes', 'no' or 'take it on notice'.

Mr Fraser : I am very happy to take on notice your question.

Senator WONG: I also put to you, therefore, in the absence of a resignation, a revocation of their commission by the Governor-General is actually them simply being sacked.

Mr Fraser : That is a statement to which I will not respond.

Senator WONG: I am asking you what it is.

Mr Fraser : It is a revocation of the appointment, and that is the instrument.

Senator WONG: On Mr Briggs, you did say in your answer that some ministers write to the Governor-General directly as well as to the Prime Minister; correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: And Mr Briggs's references in the letter that he has publicly released a letter that he sent to the Governor-General; is that right?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: A letter was received from Mr Briggs.

Mr Fraser : Yes, it was.

Senator WONG: When did the Governor-General receive the letter of resignation?

Mr Fraser : On 29 December.

Senator WONG: Was it before or after Mr Briggs's press conference announcing his resignation?

Mr Fraser : I am not sure what time Senator Briggs's press conference was—

CHAIR: He is not a senator. You cannot elevate him like that!

Mr Fraser : I am sorry, excuse me—Mr Briggs.

Senator WONG: Did you become aware of his resignation by public reporting or by way of receipt of the letter?

Mr Fraser : We had contact in the period immediately preceding the receipt of the letter from Mr Briggs that he intended to resign.

Senator WONG: So you or the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : I, myself, was not at the office at that time. It was Mr Murtagh's deputy official secretary who received that advice through the Prime Minister's Office.

Senator WONG: By telephone?

Mr Fraser : By telephone.

Senator WONG: Okay. And was Mr Briggs's letter transmitted by email, by hard copy?

Mr Fraser : Yes, it was by email.

Senator WONG: Do you have a time on that?

Mr Fraser : Shortly after 1 pm.

Senator WONG: Was that from Mr Briggs's office or from the PMO?

Mr Fraser : It was from the PMO.

Senator WONG: So the Prime Minister's Office emailed Mr Briggs's resignation letter to you shortly after 1 pm.

Mr Fraser : That is correct. They forwarded a copy of the resignation letter via email.

Senator WONG: Hang on. I am not asking about the letter to Prime Minister Turnbull; I am asking about a letter about which you have given evidence that Mr Briggs sent to the Governor-General.

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Was the first time the Governor-General's office received that letter by way of email from the Prime Minister's Office?

Mr Fraser : Yes, it was.

Senator WONG: When did you actually get a copy from Mr Briggs, the original?

Mr Fraser : We took the email copy to be the lawful letter of resignation. I do not believe we ever received any subsequent letter. There may have been an original received.

Senator WONG: Is it a signed letter?

Mr Fraser : It is a signed letter.

Senator WONG: Where was the Governor-General on 29 December?

Mr Fraser : The Governor-General was in Sydney at Admiralty House.

Senator WONG: Your evidence is that the only copy of the resignation letter was the emailed copy from the PMO?

Mr Fraser : That is the letter upon which the Governor-General acted.

Senator WONG: I get that.

Mr Fraser : He annotated that letter at approximately 1.15 pm at Admiralty House on 29 December.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I am asking: you get an emailed copy; did you ever get a hard copy?

Mr Fraser : I think I have answered previously that there may well have been an original copy but not that I am aware of. We acted on the emailed copy.

Senator WONG: Sure. If you do not know, but I am interested in whether or not subsequent to that there was—

Mr Fraser : I can certainly have a look if such a letter came.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Can you provide a copy of the letter of resignation?

Mr Fraser : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Sure. You gave evidence earlier that you had had some contact, or Mr Murtagh had had some contact from the PMO, anticipating the arrival of the document?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Was the first notice of that to the office on the 29th or was it prior to that?

Mr Fraser : It was on the 29th.

Senator WONG: Okay, and about how long prior to the email?

Mr Fraser : About an hour or so beforehand.

Senator WONG: Was that a staff member or the Prime Minister himself?

Mr Fraser : It was a staff member.

Senator WONG: And the advice was?

Mr Fraser : That the Governor-General can expect to receive correspondence from Mr Briggs.

Senator WONG: The act of revocation did not rely on—I am putting something to you, I can take you through it in an open way; but if this is wrong, you will tell me—the telephone contact from the PMO. The document upon which the Governor-General relied in revoking the commission was the emailed copy of the letter of resignation to the Governor-General from Mr Briggs which was emailed by the Prime Minister's Office.

Mr Fraser : In fact, Senator, the revocation instrument itself was signed the following day and that followed a letter from the Prime Minister asking the Governor-General to revoke the appointment.

Senator WONG: So that was not the evidence you gave earlier. I thought you gave evidence earlier—I might have misunderstood—that at 1.15pm, he noted it and this was the letter—

Mr Fraser : He did.

Senator WONG: —and this was the letter on which he relied; not correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct, but I did not say that he revoked his ministerial appointment at that time. He annotated the letter of resignation at that time.

Senator WONG: What is the basis of the revocation? This letter or the subsequent letter from Mr Turnbull?

Mr Fraser : The letter of revocation is only ever on the advice of the government and the Prime Minister of the day.

Senator WONG: Okay. So the Governor-General notes the letter of resignation on the 29th. On the 30th there is another letter received from the Prime Minister.

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: What time was that received?

Mr Fraser : I do not have a time on that.

Senator WONG: When was Mr Briggs's commission actually revoked?

Mr Fraser : That letter is signed by the Governor-General and dated 30 December—so that day.

Senator WONG: 30 December, after receipt of advice from Mr Turnbull?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Can you provide a copy of the advice from Mr Turnbull?

Mr Fraser : Again, I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Has the Governor-General received any advice from the Prime Minister or Mr Brough in relation to Mr Brough's decision to stand aside on 29 December as well?

Mr Fraser : No, he has not.

Senator WONG: Did the Prime Minister provide any advice to the Governor-General regarding ministerial arrangements following this decision?

Mr Fraser : I am sorry; could you repeat the question?

Senator WONG: Did the Prime Minister provide any advice to the Governor-General regarding ministerial arrangements following Mr Brough's decision to stand aside?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator WONG: Mr Brough's commission as Special Minister of State and the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science remains in place?

Mr Fraser : My understanding is that Mr Brough has stood aside; he has not resigned and so no correspondence with the Governor-General has been necessary or has been received.

Senator WONG: So his commission remains?

Mr Fraser : That is correct. I also understand that Mr Brough has written to the presiding officer asking for his ministerial salary and privileges to be suspended for the period of his stand-down.

Senator WONG: Say that again. This is the salary issue?

Mr Fraser : The ministerial salary and privileges are to be suspended for the period of his stand-down, and that was correspondence from Mr Brough to the presiding officer.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I did not ask you that question. You do not represent the presiding officer. Has that correspondence been provided to the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : That information has been provided to the Governor-General.

Senator WONG: Let us go back then. I asked you if there had been any advice. Perhaps you can provide any advice or information provided to the Governor-General about arrangements associated with Mr Brough's stepping aside.

Mr Fraser : The only information that I am aware of is as I have just answered to the committee.

Senator WONG: Which is?

Mr Fraser : That Mr Brough has stood aside; he has not resigned—

Senator WONG: Who gave you that?

Mr Fraser : This information has been gathered by our contacts with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator WONG: I am not asking for your estimates defence brief talking points. I am asking you what information formally—I am not asking in terms of—

Mr Fraser : I have received no formal advice or no formal information.

Senator WONG: Let me finish my question. I am not asking for a set of talking points about defending the Brough decision. I am asking what has been advised to the Governor-General or his office about Mr Brough's stepping aside. You told me that no advice has been provided to the Governor-General regarding either Mr Brough's stepping aside or any ministerial arrangements as a result of that. Is that correct?

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Has it been discussed at all with the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : No.

Senator WONG: I understand that the Governor-General attended or hosted a lunch for the outgoing secretary of PM&C.

Mr Fraser : That is correct.

Senator WONG: It was hosted by him?

Mr Fraser : It was.

Senator WONG: Is this is a commonplace, for outgoing secretaries to receive a farewell lunch with the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : It would be very much up to the Governor-General of the day, and the Governor-General was very happy to host a function for the outgoing secretary.

Senator WONG: Have there been any other secretaries that this Governor-General has hosted a farewell lunch for?

Mr Fraser : My understanding is that there was a farewell function for Ian Watt as Secretary of Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and my sense was that it would be normal practice and the courteous thing to do for a senior bureaucrat of his standing.

Senator WONG: Only PM&C secretaries? A number of secretaries have left from line departments. Are they afforded this as well or is it—

Mr Fraser : Generally, the head of the Public Service we are referring to here—

Senator WONG: Sure. I am just asking: what are the criteria?

Mr Fraser : There are no criteria. It is a matter for the Governor-General who he chooses to host a function for.

Senator WONG: On notice, can you please tell me which secretaries have received a farewell lunch hosted by the Governor-General?

Mr Fraser : This Governor-General?

Senator WONG: You can do this one and the past one if you like, but I was only asking about this one.

Mr Fraser : I will take your question to mean this Governor-General.

Senator WONG: Was the Prime Minister invited to the lunch?

Mr Fraser : I am not aware of whether the Prime Minister was invited.

Senator WONG: Can you take that on notice?

Mr Fraser : Sure.

Senator WONG: Was former Prime Minister Abbott invited?

Mr Fraser : The guest list for the lunch was a guest list that was determined by Mr Thawley. This was a personal farewell function. It was an opportunity for him to choose who he would like to farewell.

Senator WONG: Could you provide me with the guest list or could you at least answer the question 'Was the former Prime Minister invited?'

Mr Fraser : I will happily take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Was former Prime Minister Howard he invited?

Mr Fraser : He was at the lunch.

Senator WONG: Was former Prime Minister Abbott at the lunch?

Mr Fraser : No, he was not.

Senator WONG: Whilst it was a private lunch, obviously it was taxpayer funded. Could you provide on notice a full guest list and the food and wine menu, and are you able to tell me the total cost?

Mr Fraser : I would be happy to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: You do not have any information about that?

Mr Fraser : No.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you can keep going Wong until Minister Cash arrives if you like.

Senator WONG: Sure. So you do not have that, Mr Fraser?

Mr Fraser : I do not have the costs available for that lunch. It was a small lunch. I think there were 24 people in total at the table for that lunch. It was a modest—

Senator WONG: I had 23 people to Christmas lunch, and it did not feel like a small lunch, I can tell you that!

Mr Fraser : I think you will understand what it means—

CHAIR: They have got a Thermomix!

Senator WONG: That was my problem! I should have had a Thermomix. I could have julienned!

Mr Fraser : I was present at the lunch. It was a modest lunch, a suitable lunch. It was a very moving occasion, an opportunity to thank Mr Thawley for his service.

CHAIR: Colleagues, we now have the minister. Is it okay to release the officers from the department?

Senator WONG: Could we just hold that for a moment? Can we not do that just yet?

CHAIR: Okay. That is fine.

Senator WONG: I will just consult with some colleagues.

CHAIR: Mr Fraser, Mr Murtagh—you may be required. As soon as we know, we will let you know.

[17:01]

CHAIR: Now we are going to move on to the Office for Women. I welcome to Minister for Women, Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash, and officers from the Office for Women. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I do not, thank you.

CHAIR: Do any of your officers wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Cash: I do not believe so, no.

CHAIR: We will now go to questions. I will look to Senator Moore.

Senator MOORE: I am going to go to a few areas, because I am expecting Senator Waters to come as well, and I expect she will have some questions. So just in this short time we might go to a few places. First of all, I want to start with the media release on 22 December 2015 that came out from the Office of Women, reflecting on the year. I thought it was a really good idea to have such a media release. It was very useful just as a touch across the bases. I have only got one problem with it, and that is that, I think, seven of the 11 connections do not work. When you go into it and try and click on the attachments to find out more, they just do not work. That is an IT thing, but I think it is worthy of mention, because this is the statement about what the office had done.

Ms McSorley : I will have a look at that. When I had a look when it first went up, things were working. We are in the process of revamping the website, so it may be that a glitch has emerged in that process. But thank you. I will check it.

Senator MOORE: I will not bother using this time, but there are a few other things on the website as well—I must make a note of those and get them to you—that may just be from that process. But, just in terms of a mechanism, I thought it was a very useful thing to do. I have not seen that before. The other thing in terms of reports was—I am just double checking—was there a report from CEDAW circulated this year?

Ms McSorley : The CEDAW report has been out with the states so we can finalise the government report, so, yes, it was circulated.

Senator MOORE: Last year we had one that went everywhere, and it was very useful.

Ms McSorley : The process is that it goes to the states. It went out last year and then we got it back and considered all the comments that we got and then, if you like, did a final edit to make sure it all was consistent and told the story, because there was some overlap. Of course, often the states will report on the same thing in the same way. So it has gone back out, and we are in the process of finalising that now.

Senator MOORE: So it has not gone out.

Senator Cash: Clearly not in the final form. What I am gathering is: it has gone out back out to the states for further comment.

Senator MOORE: But it is not on the website and it has not gone to—

Ms McSorley : No. We are waiting for the final comments back from the states on what we are proposing will be the final report.

Senator MOORE: There was a great deal of discussion at that meeting and it was interesting. Have you got any idea about when that would be available?

Ms McSorley : The comments from the states were due back to us at the end of January. I think there is one we are still chasing up—

Senator MOORE: That is not bad really—only one.

Ms McSorley : It is underway.

Senator MOORE: Okay, so by the next estimates if there is one. Would that be the expectation?

Ms McSoreley : I would hope so.

Senator MOORE: Okay. This is just a question about the international engagements. There was an international conference at the end of last year which was looking at issues around domestic violence, and Australia was actually—

Senator Cash: At the Hague?

Senator MOORE: That is it. And you were there, Minister?

Senator Cash: Yes; the 3rd World Conference of Women's Shelters.

Senator MOORE: Thank you. I was trying to think about that one in preparation for this particular meeting and I could find nothing—anywhere—that talked about it. It was such a significant event, I am just checking. It was not on the Office of Women website, it was not under the international processes to see what happened, and when I googled ministerial statements it did not come up.

Senator Cash: We will follow that up because, you are correct, it was a significant one. Our statement was exceptionally well received.

Senator MOORE: That is what I wanted to follow up on.

Senator Cash: And in fact, to the extent that Queen Maxima made special mention of Australia. So certainly, we will follow that up and ensure that we get you whatever relevant information, but that it is also put onto—

Senator MOORE: Good. My staff were actually beginning to think that I was demented—

Senator Cash: No, no; absolutely not!

Senator MOORE: because I said I knew there was this conference. I knew it at the time, and I actually sent you an email congratulating you—

Senator Cash: You did, thank you. We will get you the statement.

Senator MOORE: and I had no record of it.

Senator MOORE: Under international engagement on the website, that particular process is not there. Their website actually mentions three series of international engagements in which we are involved, and that one is not there. I am looking at where we are going, just in terms of the process.

Ms McSoreley : Senator, can I just make one point there: it was not a total oversight on our part. I know we did prepare some work for Minister Cash, and there were some tweets that went out into the social media. But in terms of then joining the dots with the website, that is the work that we need to do.

Senator MOORE: Okay. The review of the alliances which we talked about at the last estimates: can we get an update of where that is at?

Ms McSoreley : We have just got the final report from KPMG last Friday, so we are in the process—

Senator MOORE: That is timely.

Ms McSoreley : Senator, you will recall that I have just come into the role. I had a look at the work that they were doing. We went out and asked them to do a little bit more consultation with a broader range of stakeholders. It has been a very extensive consultation—54 stakeholders in total—and we asked them to do an international comparison of similar models—

Senator MOORE: Good.

Ms McSoreley : around bringing the voice of women to government. As I say, we received the report last Friday and we will be providing advice to the minister.

CHAIR: Whilst there is a break in proceedings, I would like to let Mr Fraser and Mr Murtagh know that they are no longer required; we have dispensed with the Office of the Governor-General.

Senator MOORE: You have dispensed with them!

Senator Cash: There is an announcement!

CHAIR: So to speak.

Senator MOORE: This is an extraordinarily powerful committee, it really is. Ms McSorley, you got the first round and you have actually put it out for further engagement. What is your expectation, to the best of your ability, of the time line for that review to be completed now?

Ms McSoreley : Senator, the review is completed.

Senator MOORE: But in terms of being completed, completed. You have got more consultation happening; you will put that into the process. In relation to the document that you got last week, do you believe that is the final document?

Ms Cross : Senator, we will aim to have things finalised well in advance of contracts—

Senator MOORE: I am sorry; I cannot hear you.

Ms Cross : I am Rebecca Cross, Head of Domestic Policy. We will aim to have final decisions well ahead of contracts finishing, so it would hopefully be in the near future.

Senator MOORE: Ms Cross, that is a statement of the bleeding obvious.

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry: this a review of the alliances, going into the format of the new process, and we know that has been going on. We were told that it was going to be finished at the end—

Ms Cross : And so that is the answer to your question. It will be finalised as soon as possible.

Senator MOORE: Okay. Well, I will take that down—and go to the completeness of the other answers I received from the Office of Women, which I will go to now—which tells me nothing.

Ms Cross : Senator, we can't speculate. We have given you an answer that it will be finished as soon as possible.

Senator MOORE: I am sorry, I cannot hear you. It is an ongoing problem in this room.

CHAIR: It may be that you can move the microphone towards you, or maybe speak a little bit more loudly, Ms Cross.

Ms Cross : Is that better?

Senator MOORE: Yes, that is better.

Ms Cross : I was just saying that we cannot speculate, but we will get it finalised as soon as possible.

Senator MOORE: I will put that down as 'as soon as possible', 'soon' and as one of the other I said. When are the contracts due to be renewed?

Ms McSorley : On 30 June they expire.

Senator MOORE: So the current contracts finish on 30 June?

Ms McSorley : Yes.

Senator MOORE: What is the standard Office for Women procedure for working with the alliances leading up to the end of their contracts? I would expect that it is not on 29 June that you tell them what is happening?

Ms McSorley : I cannot speak for what would be the standard procedure, but, as Ms Cross said, it would be to try to finalise the report soon so that we can move forward well in advance of their contracts.

Senator MOORE: When is the next meeting of all the alliances?

Ms McSorley : The alliances have an annual forum, and we are proposing to do that in April or May this year.

Senator MOORE: The website still talks about the meeting in 2015. So you are having the next meeting in April/May 2016, which will be when you will have them all together. Is there any hope to have the review completed by April/May 2016?

Ms McSorley : Ms Cross said 'soon', so that is soon.

Senator MOORE: That is soon, but I am actually—

Senator Cash: From my perspective the answer is yes. I understand that 30 June is the cut-off date, and certainly our instructions to the department are to finalise it bearing in mind that date. I will not give a firm commitment, but certainly yes—

Senator MOORE: No, you cannot. I was looking at practice. When you have all the alliances together, there might be an expectation that the review that they have been sweating on the for the last 12 months may well be completed. But I will check again to see—

Ms Cross : If I could just add, we would hope it was finalised before then—as I said, as soon as possible.

Senator MOORE: Yes. Luckily before 30 June, Ms Cross—which was your actual answer.

Ms Cross : No, I did not say '30 June'; I said 'as soon as possible'.

Senator MOORE: You said 'before the contracts were to be completed'. We will not go into it, but I will check the Hansard and go back.

Ms Cross : No, I think I said we would like to finalise them well before the contracts were to be completed, but I am happy to check the record.

Senator MOORE: We will both be checking the record then, Ms Cross. In the terms of the process for the funding for the alliances, when will the funding element of that be decided? Will that be in the next budget?

Senator Cash: That is my understanding, yes.

Senator MOORE: I am looking at the out-figures.

Senator Cash: Correct. So funding formally ends on 30 June, and then there would be, depending on the outcome of the review, another funding announcement.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the process?

Senator Cash: Correct.

Senator MOORE: In that case it will be the issue around what would be the actual focus of the new alliances—

Senator Cash: Correct.

Senator MOORE: and also their gathering together.

Senator Cash: Yes.

Senator MOORE: When will the reports on the alliance work be expected? They have all had projects over the last 18 months, so when are you expecting that the final reports will be completed?

Ms McSorley : They have a work program going through until 30 June, so it would be after that date.

Senator MOORE: They are only funded till 30 June and are only funded at this stage to work until 30 June—

Ms McSorley : That is right.

Senator MOORE: but the completion date and report-back dates for their projects is not before 30 June?

Ms McSorley : I will have to look at each individual project of the five alliances to determine the actual date, but the expectation is that there is a final report due at the end of their contract period. So whether or not that deliverable is done before 30 June or after—and it is not unusual in Commonwealth contracts to have a report done after the funding has ceased—

Senator MOORE: That has happened in previous areas, but the expectation of the report date is by the end of their contract. They can be times when it comes in later, but if you are due to finish on 30 June you would be working towards having your project completed by 30 June.

Ms Cross : The project would be completed, but it could be that the report is for a later date, so we would have to look at each contract to confirm that for you.

Senator MOORE: When will you know that?

Ms Cross : We can go back and check the contracts.

Senator MOORE: Good, put that on notice. Minister, at this stage, have you been able to consider whether the report on the alliances would be a public report or whether—

Senator Cash: Not at this stage, the only reason being that I have not yet seen it. I am also still waiting for the report to come to me.

Senator MOORE: We had a large discussion at the last hearing about how the Office for Women interacts with other areas of policy that impacts on women, and looking at the funding of it. I am just wanting to look at it in terms of three areas that I am interested in to see what role the Office for Women may or may not have had. The first one is with the early childcare package—the early childhood education package. Does the Office of Women have any interaction with the Department of Education in that area?

Ms Cross : I think at the time the package was being developed it was in the Department of Social Services, and the answer was yes.

Senator MOORE: What role does the Office for Women have? Is it a formal role? Is there an interdepartmental committee? How does it operate?

Ms Cross : From memory, some of the early work was done within PM&C, and there was a task force, and one of the people on the task force was from the Office for Women.

Senator MOORE: And what happens now, now that the policy intervention stage is—

Ms Cross : Now we are in the implementation stage. PM&C, which includes the Office for Women, is involved in monitoring all major packages as they are implemented.

Senator MOORE: What is the format of that monitoring? Is that determined case by case?

Ms Cross : Yes, and often it is just day-to-day liaison with that department.

Senator MOORE: How about the issue about the filling of the Human Rights Sex Discrimination Commissioner position? It is a two-part question—what role, if any, the Office for Women has, and whether the minister, or the Office for Women, received any correspondence about this issue.

Ms Cross : Again, we are involved in that, and I was on the panel for the selection process. But I think questions of detail about that process would go to the Attorney-General.

Senator MOORE: Absolutely, and they will be. In terms of correspondence, Minister, have you received any correspondence with concerns about the filling of the job? Or has the Office for Women received it?

Senator Cash: It would be the Office for Women, possibly. Your concerns have come through to me. Formal correspondence—

Ms McSorley : It does not ring a bell. I will have to take it on notice. But those things would normally—

Senator Cash: Some people have asked when it is going to be announced, and certainly my understanding is that it is imminently. I hope we have moved from 'soon' to 'imminently'.

Senator MOORE: I think it went this week from 'soon' to 'very soon', but I am hoping we will—

Senator Cash: Just so you know, we have undertaken a formal process, and obviously Senator Brandis will be able to take you through that in more detail when you ask him the questions. The process has taken some time, but I think when we make the announcement it will be the best possible candidate available.

Senator MOORE: Of course. The issue around midwives and also the review of the maternity services in Australia: has the Office for Women had any role in the maternity services review?—which is a pretty significant issue for women. And, secondly, there is the ongoing issue in Australia about the practice of midwives, and, again, in terms of policy, has that had any input from the Office for Women?

Ms Cross : I think we will have to take that on notice. That may have been something worked on by the health area as well as the Office for Women, and, again, it may have been officials sort of liaising—but not that I can recall at my level.

Senator MOORE: I have some questions that go into the family violence area, and there is no real sequence to these, so I will just run through them. The first one is around the funding for the Luke Batty Foundation that was announced at the morning tea for Australian of the Year. Can you advise from which bucket of money that particular foundation funding has come from?

Ms McSorley : It has come from the Women's Leadership and Development Strategy fund.

Senator MOORE: That is where I presumed it would come from. It is not on recent printouts of that. So, what is the delay? I am not saying the delay is anyone's fault, but what is the process for when you announce a significant amount of money of that kind to where it appears in the publicised list of funding?

Ms McSorley : The agreement is being negotiated. Once it is finalised and signed, then it will go on to the AusTender website.

Senator MOORE: So, it does not appear on the public record until after the grant has been signed?

Ms McSorley : That is right.

Senator MOORE: And with this one—and with all of them—what kind of data exchange is there? What sorts of things do you have to tie down before you sign off on the grant? The leadership grants are very wide-ranging in terms of how they operate and how they are actually set up. So, in this one, without breaking any kind of issues about confidentiality, what are the kinds of things you have to tie down on such a grant?

Ms McSorley : We are negotiating with the Luke Batty Foundation the actual work plan that will underpin the purpose of the grant, which was to engage with the corporate sector, including contributing to the establishment of a business alliance; attend and speak at key events to raise awareness about domestic violence and gender equality; and engage with civil society, academia and business. So, we are just negotiating the work plan.

Senator MOORE: And those terms of reference, to an intent, are determined by the department?

Ms McSorley : Sorry, no; they were part of a discussion with Ms Batty around the grant initially.

Senator MOORE: So, a claim was put in. On the website, on how this area works, you actually respond to a claim.

Ms McSorley : Yes.

Senator MOORE: So, the claim that was put in identified the kinds of issues the foundation would be considering. Then you negotiate that with the office as to whether it meets all the requirements of the office, and then that is signed off over a period of time?

Ms McSorley : That is correct.

Senator MOORE: The campaign that I ask about regularly—

Senator Cash: The campaign with the states and territories?

Senator MOORE: Yes. We did get an answer to a question on notice which said not a lot. I am just trying to find what it did say. It told me what TNS stood for, which I was very grateful for. Do we have the tender—I actually asked whether we could see what the terms of the tender were.

Senator Cash: The one issue we have in terms of these questions is that it is actually DSS.

Senator MOORE: Right. I am happy to do that.

Senator Cash: I mean, we can field everything—

Senator MOORE: No, I can go to DSS. It is just that I did ask these questions here last time, and I was not referred to DSS for that, and that one came through. But I am more than happy, because I think the next round of questions will be going to DSS, which is the progress and the development of national standards for perpetrator intervention—

Senator Cash: You are probably best to ask DSS.

Senator MOORE: I have there marked 'DSS', so I will actually go for the tender document around—I have already forgotten their name, but TNS. And the progress of the program of CrimTrac—is that DSS, or Attorney's, or yourself?

Senator Cash: You are correct—it is Attorney's. We could give you a broad overview, though, if you would like—or would you prefer just to ask the specific questions?

Senator MOORE: I have specific questions around how that program is going.

Senator Cash: Okay, then you are probably best to ask Attorney-General's, if they are specific.

Senator MOORE: Yes, because it was particularly mentioned in the COAG statement.

Senator Cash: We could take you through the COAG statement, but you probably have it in front of you, so—

Senator MOORE: Just as an update of where that one is. And I have a question about national cybercrime; that is also DSS, and the statement about the national summit, which was in the COAG statement.

Ms Laffan : The cybercrime is Attorney-General's Department.

Senator MOORE: And naturally in terms of the national summit everybody will be consulted about that. And would the Office of Women be the key agency for the development of the national summit?

Ms Cross : Yes, most probably—although, as you would know, other states have offered to host it.

Senator MOORE: Absolutely.

Ms Cross : So, it could be that quite a lot of the work is done—

Senator MOORE: It will be very competitive, I think. But the Office for Women will be kind of the ownership within the Commonwealth.

Ms Cross : Yes.

Senator MOORE: I have a question about the national grants, and there is one here under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, which is Technology to Keep Women Safe Digital Challenge Initiative, which looks like the money has gone to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet—it is printed out; it says 'Premier and Cabinet'—but it does not say which state. It is $60,000. I know that is a very ridiculous thing to ask.

Ms Laffan : Sorry, Senator—that is the South Australian government.

Senator MOORE: It is not marked. So, South Australian government—they are taking leadership on a particular program there under the National Plan to Reduce Violence—

Ms Laffan : That is under the technology trials of the $100 million package.

Senator MOORE: That is DSS.

Ms Laffan : Yes.

Senator MOORE: The Women's Safety Package—I am just wondering whether that will be you or DSS as well.

Ms Cross : It sort of depends on the question.

Senator MOORE: They would be quite detailed questions about how they are going to operate and how the $15 million to the Queensland government is going to be looked at, and stuff like that. Would that be—

Ms Cross : Which $15 million?

Senator MOORE: It says $15 million has been allocated 'to enable police in Queensland to better respond to domestic violence in remote communities and for measures that reduce re-offending by Indigenous perpetrators'. Can the minister provide details of how this is being spent and on what programs?

Ms Cross : That is PM&C, but it is the Indigenous Affairs Group, which appears on Friday.

Senator MOORE: And $5 million 'for local women caseworkers to coordinate support for women, including support for women, including housing, safety and budgeting'?

Ms Laffan : That is DSS.

Senator MOORE: It's like a bingo game, isn't it!

Senator MOORE: I asked a question on notice about methodologies of evaluation, and in the answer it said, 'The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has convened an interagency committee to monitor the implementation and evaluation of the Women's Safety Package'. Who is on that? And is this yours? Am I right to ask you this question? Or should it be DSS?

Ms Laffan : No, that is us.

Senator MOORE: Oh, good.

Ms Laffan : I do not have the list, but off the top of my head it involves those agencies from the Women's Safety Package—the Department of Social Service, the Attorney-General's Department, the Department of Communications, the Safety Commissioner, the Department of Education.

Senator MOORE: Can I get, on notice, who exactly is on it?

Ms Laffan : Certainly.

Senator MOORE: And as it has been convened by PM&C, that would mean that the Office for Women would take the major ownership of that in terms of keeping it going, and the secretariat?

Ms Laffan : Yes.

Senator MOORE: To whom does it report?

Ms Cross : I chair the committee, and we report regularly to the minister on the progress of the package.

Senator MOORE: So, it does not report to COAG; it reports to the minister.

Ms Cross : This is overseeing the Commonwealth $100 million package.

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Ms Cross : That reports to the minister.

Senator MOORE: Another one on the Women's Safety Package: I asked when it is finalised—this is about women's safety ministers' meetings—whether we could get information about what the agendas were and details of that process, and I was told that you would check, and the answer that came back was, 'It is not the practice of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to provide agendas for meetings of Commonwealth and state or territory ministers unless ministers decide to release them publicly, which has not occurred for the last women's safety ministers' meeting'. Minister, was that your decision?

Senator Cash: No, it was not. I would need to speak to the department about that.

Ms Cross : That is a longstanding protocol with COAG and other ministerial councils. It is unusual for them to release an agenda. They normally just release a communique at the end of each meeting.

Senator MOORE: Unless the ministers decide to release them. So, has there been a precedent of ministers releasing them? By reading your answer, the impression I get is that ministers in the past may have decided to release them.

Ms Cross : I have not been involved with every ministerial council, but I cannot recall one releasing an agenda. It is far more normal that they put out a communique at the end.

Senator MOORE: The round table consultations that have been occurring—we asked about the plan with businesses to consider how government and businesses can work together to increase women's workforce participation. That was around the G20 commitment, and the answer came back that there had been one of these round tables on 19 November with a report, which is really useful, and it is on the website. Minister, what is the plan for the future? I would expect, the way the answer is written, that there will be a series of these consultation processes.

Senator Cash: There will be. I believe I have one tomorrow—in fact, at Parliament House.

Senator MOORE: Good.

Senator Cash: They involve stakeholder representation from across the board to discuss the ways we can increase women's workforce participation.

Senator MOORE: The report that we got on the one on 19 November was more like a communique and a media release, but we did not get a list—that I am aware of—of who was at it. When you release the one for tomorrow, will it be possible to find out who attended?

Senator Cash: I do not see why we would not be able to, but I will take it on notice. But, if we can, yes.

Senator MOORE: My interest is actually in what the plan is around the progress towards the G20 commitment, and the answer was that you are working through that with these roundtables. So if we could get as much information on the progress that would be very useful.

I have been pouring over the grants—and that has been very bad for my eyesight—and I have a couple of incredibly boring detail questions about what was in there. So I do apologise for this. On the listing of new grants that has come out—the last one was 12 October 2015—there are only three new grants listed. They were: 8 January 2016 for Chill-Rite Refrigeration for a wage subsidy for an Indigenous worker in Queensland; 22 September for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom—which I totally understand; and 11 May 2015 for ASIC to do some work on how, through that process, you can deliver information for women. I totally understand those two, but I do not understand a grant for Chill-Rite Refrigeration to provide a wage subsidy for an Indigenous worker in Queensland for $7,150.

Ms Cross : I think we might need to take that on notice and check that it has been properly recorded.

Senator MOORE: Yes. This is the formal report of the grants that came out on 12 October 2015.

Ms McSorley : It does not ring a bell, so we will take it on notice.

Senator MOORE: I could not work it out either. I also have another question. There appear to be changes to three grants from what was originally recorded. The grant to the Australian Institute of Company Directors on 16 June is now $65,000 more than it originally was, the grant to the Wirrpanda Foundation on 13 June is now $5,446 less than before and the grant to the Australian Mines and Metal Association on 30 May is now $44,000 more. I can submit these on notice. In terms of following through with expenditure, they are quite significant changes.

Ms McSorley : It reflects program management. I think with the AICD one, there were some additional scholarships. The others reflect our normal program management around deliverables and negotiation with stakeholder. But we will take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: A $44,000 difference?

Ms McSorley : I will take that on notice.

Senator Cash: Are you asking: why the increase?

Senator MOORE: Yes. I can understand a variation of $5,000 in a grant, but I do not understand a variation of $65,000—without some sort of information or explanation.

Ms Cross : It would be to provide additional services or do additional work. But we will get the specifics for you.

Senator MOORE: Does that change to a grant, that need, then get reported to the Senate?

Ms Cross : It would just go in the normal grant reporting as a variation to a contract, I would expect. But we will check.

Senator MOORE: In terms of the standing order about changes to grants and being notified to the Senate.

Ms Cross : I think there is a standard process for collecting information. We will check that it is picked up in that as a variation.

Senator MOORE: Can you just check, because I do not recall those variations in the reports that we got to the Senate. I have a number of things about the grants. One is the cumulative reduction in the amount of money that is going into the grant programs. Has there been a decision to reduce—

Ms McSorley : No. You can see that there has been a change in the additional estimates to reflect an error that was made in an earlier parliamentary budget statement. The rest just reflects the usual government metrics that are applied out in the forward years.

Senator MOORE: Actually I will put this on notice because from when the original allocations were done across the forward years, the amounts that were allocated across each of the out years, and when you look at what is now public—and thank you, it is on the website; they have the current list of the grants, and I found that very useful to have it there—there is a variation against the original years, and they have gone down.

Ms Cross : We will take it on notice, Senator, but in the normal process of government of having efficiency dividends and different opportunities to downsize it may be part of that. And there was one where there was an error.

Senator MOORE: Yes, I remember that, and we have looked over that, but I am interested to see whether this is an impact of the efficiency dividend. If it is, I totally understand, but I just have to work out whether—

Ms Cross : We will take that on notice.

Senator MOORE: they were subject to the same efficiency dividends.

CHAIR: Thank you. That concludes the Office for Women.

Senator Cash: Thank you very much, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister, and you officers for attending. We appreciate it.